DESPITE the clamour by tech companies to connect everyone to everything, it has been a while since I heard anyone complain about the encroaching footprint of Big Brother
But a forthcoming attempt by Amazon to plant a video camera and microphone in your bedroom may raise more than a few eyebrows.
The Echo Spot, which is being released soon in the US and is due to come here in the new year, is the latest in the company’s range of voice activated products which respond to your command to a “digital assistant” called Alexa.
Until now, the Echo range has been an audio-only enterprise, but the little-seen Echo Show, a pyramid-shaped table-top speaker with a small screen bolted on top, changed that. Amazon introduced it earlier this year with little fanfare, apparently to test the water, and will sell it here from next month for £200. The idea is that you can pop it on the kitchen worktop and say to it: “Alexa, show me a recipe for jam roly-poly”, upon which, a video will begin playing.
It is, as with so many new devices, a solution looking for a problem, and it has been made obsolete already by the Echo Spot. This is a more obviously useful device, and one that could become quite easily the first big little thing of 2018.
The Spot reinvents the alarm clock for the online generation. It’s an attractive, spherical unit, a little bigger than a conventional clock, that lets you make video and voice calls and watch clips on its 2.5in circular display. In common with other Echo devices, it can also control any smart devices you may have in your house - your central heating thermostat, for instance - and stream music from online services like Spotify or Amazon’s own music library.
Amazon says the Echo Spot will look at home in any room of your house, but given that it is being sold principally as an alarm clock, it is in the bedroom home that most units will be placed. How many people will want to make video calls from there we must wait to find out, but the possibilities are already obvious and not all of them bear thinking about.
Nevertheless, the Spot is a compelling proposition - even if you are not in the habit of making video calls at all. It can display a variety of analogue and digital clock faces, wake you with a weather forecast, your calendar and the road conditions for your journey to work, and if you use it in conjunction with a smart 13-amp adaptor, it can also turn your room lights on and off.
The price is the one factor that will prevent many from jumping on to the pre-order queue. Amazon has yet to confirm the UK details, but in America it is selling the Echo Spot for the equivalent of just under £100, and it’s hard to see it being much less here - at least for the moment. Cut-price offers and cheaper second and third iterations will no doubt follow in due course.
There will also be package deals - Amazon would like to sell you one of these units for each room of your house, but remember that the Echo Dot, now in its second generation, is also available and offers almost the same features except the video screen, for just £50. If you don’t want a camera next to your bed, it might be all the connectivity you need.